My experience at El Valor working with Latino families has been a very rewarding experience. “El Valor believes that individuals with disabilities are vital members of the community. El Valor is committed to assisting and supporting people with disabilities through programs that emphasize personal choice, employment, inclusion, enrichment, and leadership.” (Visit the website for more information: https://elvalor.org/adult-services/)
Before beginning my experience at El Valor, I had taken Spanish in high school and college. I also traveled to Madrid and Barcelona for a study abroad experience because I had learned Spanish. So I thought that my experience at El Valor would be beneficial for my Spanish speaking skills and being able to understand the culture more. Though the experience was rewarding, it was difficult.
After all that schooling on Spanish, I learned more being immersed around Spanish speakers. Initially, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be accepted as much because I couldn’t speak Spanish fluently. I knew how to say key phrases and simple words to where participants could understand me, but I didn’t think that would be enough to make good connections. I soon realized that I just had to be open-minded to the experience and receive what everyone had to offer. After presenting the first session to El Valor families, I felt so comfortable. As my time continued at El Valor, I grew to know more families. More families began to come because they had heard from friends or family about the opportunity on Saturdays to be able to enhance knowledge on nutrition and have a safe place for their child or children with various disabilities. Seeing smiles on faces and how exited families and children were to see me inspired me to not even think about that I couldn’t speak Spanish fluently. Additionally, body language was huge help for me sometimes. Embracing children, smiling at participants, and being wiling to understand their culture was beneficial during my experience at El Valor.
The connections I made at El Valor will continue to go beyond my experience. I can think of a few people that I will continue to stay connected with. Maria, her daughter has a mental disability and she attended the program to receive more information about how to change to a healthy lifestyle while helping her daughter manage her symptoms. Reflecting back, Maria and I only exchanged a few words but many smiles and hugs. Maria could not speak English much, but somehow we connected. We connected through the dance portion of the Saturday session. Maria was my dance partner, I taught her some moves and she taught me hers. We smiled and laughed understanding that we made a connection through dance. Another participant that I can think of was a small child. Her bangs were cut like Dora and every session she attended she ran through the door to give me a hug. This simple hug from the small child inspired me and encouraged me to immerse myself deeper into my experience. I asked her to teach me Spanish words and she helped at times when I didn’t know what some participants were saying. One session, she never left my side. My little helper’s brother was autistic. Her brother liked to call himself Superman, so I couldn’t help but to call him superman every time I saw him. When I called him superman, he was filled with joy. During our final sessions I called him superman and he replied back to me, “ YOU ARE THE SUPERMAN.” I was overwhelmed with joy to know that we connected and we both were able to help each other through our experience.
During my experience at El Valor after Saturday sessions, I always wondered if the families took home what we had taught. I was on my way to school one morning and saw three of the ladies running in the Pilsen community. During Saturday session we had discussed that physical activity is important. I was excited to see them running and working out in their neighborhood. I immediately rolled down my window and cheered them on. The following week I saw a family waiting for the bus snacking on fruit they had purchased from a local vendor. I was excited to see that they choose the fruit instead of fried chips or other unhealthy options. These experiences let me know that the information we presented was being applied the participant’s lives.
Overall, I had many beneficial experiences during my time at El Valor. I plan to continue to volunteer my services there because I have learned so much from participants. Most importantly, I have learned how I can be a better Occupational Therapist.
For more information at Saturday sessions, Healthy Family Lifestyles check out:https://elvalor.org/uic-healthy-family-lifestyles/